Brisbane studio IV Motion created the recently released Penny Time: a brilliant skateboarding game that also puts you in the running to win a real Penny skateboard. CNET Australia spoke to creative director and sound designer Hans van Vliet.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What is IV Motion, and how did you get into mobile-gaming development?
IV Motion is a boutique motion design studio, based in Brisbane, Australia. We've spent the last three years working on animations and post-production work for television commercials. All of us have a passion for games, and some of us had worked in the game [development] industry before making the move over to [IV] Motion design.
Penny Skateboards was introduced to us through another client of ours. They were looking to create a mobile game, so we put forward a pitch that was a fresh take on the skateboard genre.
Is Penny Time your first game? Can you explain it — what is it about and how does the gameplay work?
Penny Time was our first venture into game development — let alone mobile development. It was such an amazing journey, to bring it all together — our team worked on it for around nine months! Penny Time is really simple to get. As you skate along, coloured targets appear on the ground, which indicate [the] direction you need to flick. These flicks perform tricks, which will help you to pass the frozen obstacles ahead. The more accurate your flicks are on the targets, the better your score will be.
Levels contain "zones" where you'll be able to gain points, build up a "multiplier" and, lastly, "cash in", where you can flick back to combine your points and multipliers; smashing you in the face with money! This sequence is called an "area" — each level has three of these. The whole gameplay experience ties in strongly with what skating means to us — a unity of cruising through streets and listening to music.
There's massive competition in the mobile-gaming market — what does Penny Time offer, that other games do not?
One of our main focuses with Penny Time is to make it as competitive as possible. As we previously mentioned, each level has three areas that contain point, multiplier and cash-in sections. Essentially, if you choose not to "cash in", you are able to carry your stored points/multipliers from the previous area and are able to add to them in [to] the next point/multiplier zones. If you were to stack it, at this point, you'll lose all the points you have accumulated. You can complete a level without cashing in until the very last cash-in section, which rewards you with massive points. This mechanic puts the pressure back on the player and gives the game a perfect risk/reward feel. At the same time, it also creates a really nice balance for both casual and hardcore gamers. It's really fun playing with other people around, because it creates a lot of tension between everyone, when someone skips the cash-in zone. When we play it, we still freak out and then usually stack it.
Another thing we're really excited about is "Competition Play". Every two weeks, we'll be running a competition where you can go in the running to win a real Penny skateboard. Players will compete head-to-head on a leaderboard, and, when the competition ends, we'll be taking a snapshot of the leaderboard, and the top players will win! We're running a few competition rounds, so stay tuned!
Lastly, we have the game's rhythm mechanic. It's buried deep into the game and [it] is one of the core elements that really pushes the experience. You don't need to understand the mechanic to know that you're in time with the music, but, when you hit the multiplier zone, you'll notice that each trick you do plays a note in the song. This does two things: one, helping the player become more accurate with their flicks, as you can hear that you are in time with the track; and two, it creates tension really quickly and pushes the power of the song into your fingers.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far? How did you overcome it?
We really wanted to avoid having the game feel tiled and repetitive. We've created a story within each level so as to create an engaging experience for both the player and anyone who may be watching over their shoulder. We wanted to make it so that, whenever you take a moment to look at the surrounding environment in the game, you get a laugh from it. This required time and distance from each level, so we did our best to allow everyone space, so it remains spontaneous.
What do you think is the essential ingredient of a truly awesome mobile game?
That's a hard one to answer! Most of the successful and awesome games are all "pick up and play", which really caters to a casual market. I think the real backbone to a great game is staying true to form, not being ashamed of what your game is and generally being confident in what you're doing. I also believe mystery is really important. Having a little secret that pops out in the game and gives you a warm hug is a really nice surprise. For us, that was the music mechanic. Sure, you are doing tricks, but now you're playing an instrument.
What is the best thing about working in mobile-gaming development? What is the worst?
It has definitely been a very rewarding experience to be able to develop for a mobile game. I really love that, thanks to touchscreen technology, we're able to create exciting interactive experiences that really engage the player. My favourite part of the development cycle was spending time crafting smooth and enjoyable gameplay that felt satisfying for the player. The worst part of it would have to be catering to limited hardware capabilities. We found that to be difficult, and required it lots of optimisation in respect to programming and graphics.
Do you have any advice to offer aspiring mobile-games developers?
I'm still in a constant state of learning, so I feel very humbled that you would ask such a thing! One thing that I really took home each week was that I'm wrong, and play-testers are right. It's amazing to have ideas for how the game will play out, but seeing someone who had never played the game before provided a lot of insight as to how wrong I was! So, keep in mind that any information you get from play-testers is very valuable information and helps to forge a really strong game. Even now, I still want to tweak around and change things.
What's next for IV Motion?
I have a personal side project named "7 Bit Hero" — it's a live band/interactive experience, where you play the game and we play the music. We recently performed at Blip Festival Australia; however, some might remember us from the EB Games Expo in Brisbane last year. We put together a promo video for the show, featuring a boy, called Aric, who threw up candy all over sleeping animals. Suffice to say, we're grey-boxing out gameplay mechanics for said boy. So keep an eye out for that.